The SAB #AlcoholBan#VaccineStrategy campaign deserves the backlash it received not so much for the insidious attempted manipulation of public opinion though influencer marketing… but for ignoring a technicality, placed to protect the consumer from manipulation by advertising induced content. Putting in the spotlight the case of Khanyi Mbau, a celebrity and alcohol entrepreneur, apparently selected as part of the campaign, had some worthy points albeit sponsored, which were denied credibility by a lack of a certain “authenticity” as the scripts developed. What seemed to cause the outrage were cynical denying the SAB product, which factually contains a behaviour altering substance , has any correlation to government reports about the current situation and the pressures that alcohol related cases inflict on the health system. It was a knock for the brand even after a reasonable press release outlining their reasons for approaching the courts. The assumptions that these were not “authentic” remarks by the celebrity influencers, but a paid, manufactured attempt to influence public debate were proved true when other influencers had similar hashtags and almost identical diction and copy… which was further embarrassing as the cat peeped out of the bag.
Communications scholars may recall Noam Chomsky’s book, Manufacturing Consent, a classic book where it can be interpreted he argues that “with an unequal division of wealth and power comes a wildly uneven distribution of stories that favours the upper class “. Essentially, includes all those who profit from our induced consumerism. SAB as a brand, has a long history in the country, a history with disputed legacy ranging between a really successful local business, but also profiting off of a questionable though socially acceptable product which has recorded correlation with increased socio-economic ills. Their sin was not “reading the room”, although not a crime, it is a common mistake made by desperate marketers, utilising language and emotion to in this case support the business sales function but influencing “policy” by selling ideas and doubt as the product. This is not necessarily because they are villains seeking profit at all costs but because in reality they have a point depending on the logic one is using, and they were desperate enough to raise it by means of testing the constitutionality of the Government decision to ban alcohol again.
In a leaked marketing brief making the rounds on social media, influencers are tasked to be authentic in their approach to the unique selling points of the campaign. The hashtags #AlcoholBan #VaccineStrategy are emphasised. But here is the real problem, the SAB Marketing teams failure to encourage the necessary consumer protecting codes by the SA advertising regulatory board, which seek to add a layer of authenticity and integrity to influencer content on social media… and so codes were outlined by the regulating board that all paid content is to be marked with #ad #advertisement or #sponsored.
Marking the content as “Paid for” using the above hashtags makes it easy for followers, consumers of the message, to distinguish between branded (paid) and organic (unpaid) content. The codes outline, how all posts shared should be ” accurate and responsible…”. As a result, using data to deny the “correlation” between the Brand product and statistical evidence provided by the government may seem noble but not very tactful, leading to a sense that it is opportunistic and riddled with deceit. Even slight deceit whether by “commission or omission” should be considered a red flag in these times of virtual worlds and virtual money. In the codes by the SAARB, for full transparency, influencers are required to disclose by the very same hashtags #sponsored #ad even when they have been given or loaned goods or services by brands in return for media coverage or publicity. a great attempt at helping to (re)enforce publisher and influencer integrity and lett consumers form fair opinions of the content or product.
So we can understand when desperate times call for desperate measures. In the realms of influence, where brands seek to influence policy through paid propaganda using celebrity to change our minds, what safeguards are there to protect the public and consumers from their love of celebrity and it being weaponised against them? As primary target market, the public should be empowered by the understanding that they are the primary consenter in this thing we call democracy and all business within… and they can and should influence public policy and it shouldn’t be underpinned by whatever shareholder’s motivations. Regulating advertising as it evolves in the Social media space, is important, but more important is enforcing these regulations in favour of the majority public, their mental and financial wellbeing.
A parting thought, the obvious adulation that comes with having a good (addictive) product, willing fans and celebrity with large followers ready to take a cheque, shouldn’t be weaponised by the branding teams because of its potential to influence public perceptions about policy against the interests of “the public”. These brands are doing this and will continue because of the belief that we’re highly suggestible, prime subjects for hypnotism by celebrity culture and marketing budgets… Influencer marketing without transparency at its absolute worst is an attempt at brainwashing and mind-control for profit by agents among us, (i joke). It is obvious from the flouting of advertising regulations, if they did tell us the content they wish to share was a #sponsored #ad, paid for in return for some benefit, we really wouldn’t take it or them seriously. Here is a lesson, we (the people) know what authenticity is, and it cant be covered by the marketing budget.